Message to the Guest Workers of the CNMI


















October 25, 2009

"Our struggle is not easy. Those who oppose our cause are rich and powerful and they have many allies in high places. We are poor. Our allies are few. But we have something the rich do not own. We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons."
-Cesar Chavez

Dear Friends:

By next week the regulations for the transitional federal guest worker program should be released, and in 33 days the Consolidated Natural Resources Act will take effect in the CNMI. It is a time of excitement, anticipation and uncertainty for the foreign contract workers and nonresidents. It takes a significant amount of faith to continue on a path when you cannot see what is around the corner. The fact that so many of the guest workers have scarified to stay on that path and remain in the CNMI is a testament to your faith. It demonstrates your love for the Northern Marianas, which has become your home. Your steadfastness sends a message to the U.S. government as an appeal for status. Your continuing struggle to remain in the CNMI supports your belief that the path ultimately will lead to U.S. citizenship.

A federal official has informed me that signing the umbrella permits should not jeopardize your contractual rights. Any provisions that could conflict with labor law most likely would not be recognized after November 28, 2009. Therefore, there should be no harm in signing the permits and it could ensure that you remain in the CNMI for the maximum length of time. Of course, the decision of whether or not to sign a permit should ultimately be your own.

When the governor and those wishing to maintain the broken labor system successfully removed the grandfathering provision from the federal legislation it changed much of the original intent of the law. It placed a heavy burden on those nonresidents who have worked and lived in the CNMI for years. We know that under PL 110-229, by May 2010, the U.S. Department of Interior in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security and the governor of the CNMI will be required to make a recommendation to the U.S. Congress concerning the status of the foreign workers.

Will you wait for someone else to determine your fate? When you joined the unity march, your voices were heard in Washington, DC. When you signed petitions, your words reached the desks of many U.S. officials. When you wrote letters to federal officials, you put a face on issues that officials who are thousands of miles from the CNMI may not have otherwise fully understood. When your U.S. citizen children appealed to federal officials it had an impact on their views.

You do not have to sit silently and allow someone else to map out the direction of your future and the future of your children. You can take action now to tell federal officials about your individual situations and your significant contributions to the CNMI community. You can ask them directly to support green cards for all of the foreign contract workers and nonresidents who are in the CNMI. You can talk to your resident friends and relatives and ask them to cast votes in the upcoming election for people who truly have your best interests at heart.

Those who support a just and democratic guest worker program in the CNMI and in the mainland, are those who support opportunities where foreign workers and immigrants have control over their destiny and the destiny of their families. They embrace the words of President Barack Obama: "In America, no dream is beyond your grasp if you reach for it, and fight for it, and work for it." Speak out and stand firm for social justice and for political rights for yourselves and your children. I will be at your side fighting with you and I will continue to bring your voices to Washington, DC as your make the final stretch of your journey to gain political and social rights for every guest worker and nonresident who lives and works in the CNMI and has made the islands their home.

With best wishes to you all,

Wendy

40 comments:

malou berueco said...

LOVE that lines/quote by cesar chavez...so timely...
ms. wendy, this letter of yours, one of the BEST i read from yours...
GOD BLESS YOU...!

Wendy said...

God bless you too Malou and ALL of the CNMi workers and people who live in the CNMI.

Anonymous said...

Ma'am we are ready to act. Thanks you.

Anonymous said...

these sayings on the side are for us workers...

"Never under any condition should this nation look at an immigrant as primarily a labor unit. He should always be looked at primarily as a future citizen."
-Theodore Roosevelt, 1917

"It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Isaona i tumungo’ ya ha sedi, ki ayo i mismo umisagui hao.
Greater is the fault of he who allows the injustice upon himself. "
-Chamorro proverb

"There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves."
-Jose Rizal

time to stay united in the cause!

Anonymous said...

Great letter!

Anonymous said...

We love you Mam Wendy, more than words!

Anonymous said...

You jumped the gun again, didn't you Wendy? Just like when you jumped the gun on the 6000 people march when you promised people to march for Green Card!

Anonymous said...

Why do you keep saying that the CNMI system is broken and bad for the Guest Workers, Wendy? Please note that Guest Workers in the CNMI have it so good. They get paid decent wages, as compared to their homeland, get free schooling for their kids, get free medical and most get food stamps. Why is it so urgent in your life to fix things, Wendy?

Why, Why, Why???????

Anonymous said...

In other words, has it ever occurred to you that -- while you are certainly sincere in wanting to make things better -- you are actually making things worse?

In the famous words of Bill Clinton, but without meaning any of the disrespect, "It's the economy, stupid!"

By disregarding economic reality, by ascribing blame to "greedy" businesses and "corrupt" politicians, you have caused and will cause further job loss to thousands of guest workers, dozens of whom are my friends and relatives by marriage.

This demand for a "path to citizenship" has simply been a latter-day trail of tears.

I respect your idealism and good intentions, which is why I continue to dialogue with you, but not your tactics or political methods. They are very, very, VERY counterproductive!

A technical point. Guest workers can speak up in favor of whichever CNMI political candidates they wish. But monetary or in-kind contributions are a violation of federal election law. Same goes for CNMI foreign investors.

Finally, it would have been nice if Governor Fitial had that much Washington clout even before we got a Delegate. But the removal of status was solely due to Copngresswoman Bordallo, the price for her support of the bill. She did not want Guam flooded with the CNMI's guest workers.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 6:49

Any system that allowed workers to be cheated over $6.1 million is broken. Many do not get paid the legal wages or overtime wages. Many are told, "Work for what I give you or go home." Many are told to pay for their own renewal costs if they want to be renewed. Many are told that they must pay for their own medical costs. They have no pathway to citizenship even after working for 5, 10, 15, 20, or more years. That is a broken system.

No guest worker qualifies for food stamps. Their U.S. citizen children may qualify, but they do not.

the teacher said...

Most think there is no harm from signing the umbrella permit and while everyone has different circumstances, the consensus is that while it may not help all, it could not hurt anyone. Well respected CNNI attorney and director of Micronesian Legal Services, Jane Mack, commented to the Marianas Variety “we do not have a written policy. We do not have a written regulation. We do not have written law. Until we have that, until I see that, I don’t know.”

I am sceptical of the intentions of Governor Fitial’s regime, and I hope the umbrella helps CGWs, but the only motive I can figure for a two year blanket is to freeze more workers here, which will keep the value of and cost of labour down, based on laws of supply and demand.

I had a question for the panel, but it is quite long, and the officer at AMP asked people standing near the door repeatedly to leave, as she could not have that many people in the room, so I left. I hope someone can be so kind as to answer my question.

1. Does the umbrella permit supersede the CNMI work permit? Another words, if a CGW is covered under both, why can’t the employer say “you are fired” either with just cause, or because the umbrella itself violated the original contract. Who will the CGW appeal this to? Will the CNMI maintain the dysfunctional DOL? I have already heard a NMI employer say that this (umbrella) will give employers a contract out and they will immediately fire 2 or 3 of their employees that sign the umbrella the day after federalization is enacted. His belief is that there is no more CNMI DOL and in an American system he can hire and fire whoever he wants, especially if the cost of hiring is more expensive under the new system. He also stated he would fire locals protected under the 20% rule just to show that he could. So the now unemployed former CGW is in desperate conditions, who will support them? The last employer will have no obligation. Will they be able to draw food stamps and other relief such as housing allowances, medical benefits, and aid to dependent children? If CGW’s avail themselves of public assistance, will that jeopardize a future hope for improved status? My limited experience with this would suggest that foreign nationals receiving aid would not ever qualify for a green card, not even if their children are US citizens.

Anonymous said...

Wendy, I just finished talking to a Guest Worker and she is in panic because she is confused because she belives you when you told them not to sign the umbrella permit. She now wants to know which is the truth because you are now saying that it is okay to sign the umbrella permit.

Which is which,Wendy? Let it BE!!!

Wendy said...

Anonymous 8:30

As far as making things worse - I disagree. Through discussion truth is exposed. I will keep advocating and talking.

As far as the economy - Any economy built on the backs of disenfranchised, indentured servants who are paid wages so low that they keep them in sub-poverty levels is not democratic or just.

As far as the pathway to citizenship -It will happen. Slave owners never believed that their salves would be freed either. If the nonresidents are not awarded green cards after May 2010 we will push it through comprehensive immigration reform.

As far as being counterproductive -I disagree. I heard that for 20 years, but the federalization bill passed because we never gave up and never stopped working with officials in DC. I will continue to advocate for the foreign contract workers and U.S. immigrants until we have decent comprehensive immigration reform. I am unconcerned with the criticism from people who want to maintain a terribly unjust system for economic purposes.

As far as your technical point -Yes, I know this. I also do not believe that the poor guest workers would give funds to political campaigns, and no ethical candidate would seek contributions from them. The disenfranchised underclass in the CNMI is allowed to express their First Amendment rights by speaking to friends and relatives who can vote. I encourage them to do this.

As to your finally -whether or not it was Fitial's clout, it was his desire. He fought for the removal of the grandfathering provision, he testified against status, and his stand against the workers having any political or social rights is lengthy and well-documented.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 9:14

You can tell her what I said here:

A federal official has informed me that signing the umbrella permits should not jeopardize your contractual rights. Any provisions that could conflict with labor law most likely would not be recognized after November 28, 2009. Therefore, there should be no harm in signing the permits and it could ensure that you remain in the CNMI for the maximum length of time. Of course, the decision of whether or not to sign a permit should ultimately be your own.

Better yet have her talk to Rabby, Rene, Itos, Ronnie, Boni, Malou or another worker.

Wendy said...

Hello Teacher

You should send your comments to the CNMI Attorney General who is "head of the task force". His email address is: agocnmi@gmail.com

Let me know if he replies.

The guest workers and nonresidents do not qualify for public assistance.

Anonymous said...

But, Wendy, just a few day ago, you said to us.."DO NOT SIGN THE UMBRELLA PERMIT."

ARE YOU NOW SAYING THAT IT IS OKAY TO DO SO?

CAN YOU JUST ADMIT THAT YOU JUMPED THE GUN LIKE HAVE BEEN DOING JUST TO GET THE RECOGNITION??

malou berueco said...

ms.wendy:

the problem with SOME the guest workers, they want to know facts but they don't want to waste a single time attending forums & researching...
just like the series of marches we have organized, they want to have an improved status also but not doing anything or participating in any of these events..
i am sorry to say, but am also disappointed with the attitude of some GWs...
as mr. mark hanson said, 2 permit is better than 1...3 permit is better than 2...same goes with the plight of the guest workers, the more of US "GWs" requesting for our improved status the better...let all of US be heard...not only 2 or 3 GWs writing letter to FEDS to put a face on the issue...can't they realize the impact if 10,000 letters were received by FEDS???
GWs wake up! WE should ALL stand up together and BE HEARD again...!
if we want something, we should work hard for these..
"Our struggle is not easy. Those who oppose our cause are rich and powerful and they have many allies in high places. We are poor. Our allies are few. But we have something the rich do not own. We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons."
-Cesar Chavez

Anonymous said...

MABUHAY ANG MGA GUEST WORKERS!

Wendy said...

Anonymous 9:43

Please reread, reread, reread. I said I would not recommend signing the permits without more information.

Wendy said...

Well said Malou!

Captain said...

The new Regs will be out from the Feds tomorrow (Monday US time). Why doesn't everyone just wait until the Regs are posted and then see how it will or will not affect the "umbrella"
It looks like this admin is pushing very hard to push out this "umbrella"
Although the new regs are directed to the employer, it will be interesting to see how it will affect overall both the employer and the employee under the existing labor contract and this umbrella.
What differenc will a couple of days make for as soon as the "Umbrella" is signed it will be too late to take back your signature.

Saipan Writer said...

Umbrella permits do not supercede or replace or override or otherwise cancel existing permits.

This is one of the reasons I now think it is okay (and perhaps adviseable) to accept umbrella permits. I'm convinced that taking the permit can't hurt the worker and it may help.

As for an employer's rash statements: The umbrella permits don't violate the existing labor permits. They are an extra layer of permitting that extend for the maximum allowable time. The employer is bound only to his original contract, but may renew and take advantage of the employee's availability for the full 2 years if desired.

The last employer has repatriation responsibility. This is an existing right and federal law doesn't cancel it, replace it, or otherwise "impair contracts." However, when you get into the federal system--either under H-1 or H-2 or otherwise, or through the "CNMI ONLY" federal labor entry permitting, there may be different requirements (and likely more equitable payscales).

You can't stop employers or politicians or anyone from saying things, even stupid and wrong-thinking statements. But in spite of all the confusion, there are some legal principals that will remain in effect--due process being one of the strongest ones.

Wendy said...

Hello Captain

It would be beneficial if the ombudsman or AG could analyze the regulations when they come out, explaining them in lay terms and clarifying any impact on the "umbrella permits".

Wendy said...

Or maybe the Saipan Writer? Thanks Jane for the clarifying comment.

Saipan Writer said...

And one more point--there are still no regulations or written policy statements adopted and published by CNMI Department of Labor on the umbrella permits.

All of our opinions are based on currently available information, which is mostly talk.

While I currently think umbrella permits are okay, I may change my mind again, if written regs come out or other written policy statements show a different treatment of the umbrella permit than what's been shown so far.

This is how reasonable thinking people act--we are constantly thinking, assessing, processing. It may look like we change our positions--in fact we may change our minds when specific facts change or develop; but beneath the surface change is a more solid bedrock of logic, analysis, and principals.

I think Wendy is brave to admit online in her blog that new facts have caused her to re-assess her objection to the "umbrella permit."

And I'm certain if something develops that makes umbrella permits look unwise or harmful to guest workers in the CNMI, she'll be back to give that warning.

Just now--there is nothing on the horizom that makes that seem likely.

jmho

Captain said...

Wendy,
Yes, it would be good if the ombudsman would review and make a statement concerning the "umbrella" in relation to the new Regs.
I would not trust the AG's opinion as he has already proven he is just another Fitial "yes" man.
I also do not think the present AG want's to get into anything controversial that may affect him in his search for a new job next year.

Wendy said...

Hello Captain

I suggested the AG because isn't it his responsibility as AG and head of the "task force" to answer questions concerning the permit? This program supposedly came from that task force with his blessing. Of course, you are probably right about him being a Fitial yes-man. I just would like to see his (administration's) answers to the questions that Tina outlined. It is amazing that a program could be rushed forth with such major questions unanswered.

I certainly would trust the opinion of the ombudsman who represents the workers and Jane Mack before the AG.

malou berueco said...

TO ANON 10/26/09-9:43AM
Let us say, me, Wendy & Itos jumped the gun....It was because THEY just threw IT!
As per Yho Villavicencio said " THEY under estimate the capacity of SOME GWs to scrutinize ITS content"...
I was even the first one in the forum at the Phil.Consulate that raised the question of why this permit will be issued by DoL not by DoI?
Should we didn't question the UP do you think there would be series of forum that was held?
And these forums enlightened US in some aspects...because people opened their mind & ears to every other opinions and ideas...people changed their heart and opinions...constantly changing...if not, you are dead!
As I have stated during the forum last Saturday, the process/steps done by DoL was wrong.
Should the DoL had this properly introduced and information were properly dissiminated first, there might not have been great confusions and skeptisms...Instead, all of sudden they were telling guest workers to get their permit next week (w/c is this week)...without proper inforamtion of what is this all about...
Still...i have one more question, if the Governor is sincere with his "statement" why not then he ask the DoI to issue endorsement for umbrella permit or some sort...???

Anonymous said...

So why has she,the ombudsman, been so quiet lately? Benedetto was in the news almost daily during his watch in that office.

Anonymous said...

and on the blogs daily too....

the teacher said...

Perhaps the AG or administration could put out the regulations with a question and answer portion similar to the DHS informative document detailing the investor visa regulations.

Wendy - On federal assistance, I am familiar with the policy, but blanket permits without employment(and I am not convinced that we are in or will soon see a positive upward movement in our economic picture) could create poverty, increase crime, and cause much suffering, including US citizen children without the right to receive public assistance. It doesn't seem very American to put guest workers in such a perilous and volatile situation. We already have homeless and/or persons living in tin shacks without running water. I know a family currently residing with 27 people in a 2 bedroom house and no utilities. Foreign workers here have US citizen children and non-citizen children, so what happens when they are residing here under CNMI blanket protection while broke, homeless, and without food?

SW – Thanks for the clarification that umbrella permits don’t effect original employment contracts, but I have now heard a 2nd employer who disagrees, and feels he will not be bound by a CNMI labor contract. He said in the past, CNMI employers can fire employees with cause, but the hassle from the employee filing a labor complaint and legal expenses made it more practical to keep the worker until their contract expired due to the low wages that were paid. He now says CNMI labor is defunct and US labor laws will allow him to fire the employee, and fire the 20% local hires that he must routinely keep on the payroll.

malou berueco said...

FYI, when Ms. Tina Sablan asked the panel if they would endorse the umbrella pemit, the AG raised his hand also...It was only Ms. Jane Mack who gestured 50-50...

the teacher said...

PS And to answer Malou's concern about whether or not the Governor is sincere, he is not sincere at all in helping any guest worker because if he was, he could have supported an improved status that was in the original bill insteed of the lobby effort they invested so much time and money into.

Had the CNMI Governor ever showed any support for improving the lives of guest worker, the federal government would have improved the status here.

malou berueco said...

ron,
we know....political suicide...!
losing friends.....power!...
but at least for now, he knows our importance...who knows----change of heart and mind???? anyways, we will see what's there for us comes FEDS...nothing losing hope...if this is the only thing that makes us to continue to achieve our goal...
thank you ron!

Wendy said...

Hello Malou

Yes, the entire process is flawed. You are absolutely correct. Of course, we questioned the permits and still will continue to question this process as it unfolds. Jane is right, I may change my opinion as more information is revealed.

No one "jumped the gun." I still have reservations about the permit because the intent is questionable. This administration has proven that they can't be trusted by the guest workers. If the governor wants the workers to remain, why doesn't he ask the federal government to grant them status? What he truly wants is his system of oppression to continue under federalization.

My mind was changed after talking to trusted officials and attorneys.

It's a good thing that you, Itos and others are questioning and sharing opinions.

malou berueco said...

i mean, not yet losing hope...(sorry)

Wendy said...

Ron

You are right. The U.S. citizen children qualify for assistance, but not their parents. For decades the poor foreign contract workers have lived in conditions of extreme poverty relying on each other for help. I already said that there is a huge problem with so many staying in the CNMI with no employers and no support system. Karidat cannot possibly support all of those who need food and shelter. There is no homeless shelter in the CNMI. Imagine all of the money owed to the workers. Many hang on with the hope of recovering some. Absolutely the federal government must help them. They must give them status.

Your concerns need to be addressed.

Melberlin said...

"Jump the gun" derives from track and field races, the pistol generally followed immediately on the signal "Get set!" and "Go". Did we heard the "get set and go"? Wendy's and all "make a sudden movement", because it was thrown early without any hearings; only an announcement of what they intended to do asap. I saw from this post a sample of this permit and seems like the obligation of the employers regarding repatriation and other benefits were not specified in that form for those who have current employers and only those seeking for another employment, which is I think the same as the current DOL policy. So I may change my mind too until all questions from Tina have been clarified and resolved; with of course reading more comments from intelligent commentators here.

Yho Villavicencio said...

Ms. Maya Kara has an explanation on how a DOL-issued umbrella permit gives its holder an immigration status that is referred to in the P.L. 110-229 in relation to a foreign nationals admissibility in the CNMI.

According to her DOL deals with which foreigh workers can be hired and be employed in the CNMI, Div. of Immigrations deals with who may enter and who may depart, but once a foreign worker is in, DOL governs his or her period of stay.

Sounds logical to me, but legally, some other lawyers out there might be able to further explore.

For me, the question still remains - because each and everytime we GWs renew our permit, DOL reviews and approves the application, but it is still the Div. of Immigration who issues the said permit, SO, again, why is it not the Div. of Immigration issuing the umbrella permits? Or at least have a signed, single paper declaring that the umbrella permit is an Immigration document.

the teacher said...

It is encouraging to see guest workers, like Itos, Malou, and others actively involved in the umbrella permit issue. Advocates, representatives, and supporters are fine, but in America, Americans expect persons to stand up speak for themselves. Someday, perhaps our foreign national friends here will have a working status, either here or elsewhere, and they will learn that American corporations make workers fight for increased pay and benefits, and with globalization, it has become a difficult struggle.

People in the US have asked me different times about why haven't workers done anything to combat the oppression...meaning why haven't workers went on strike or fought. My answer is that organized labor involving US citizens struggled for a century for economic and social justice, so imagine non-citizens with limited rights and representation facing the same obstacles.

Some, including myself, strongly believe improving status for workers may help, but complicated problems never have simple solutions. If everyone here received a green card tomorrow our economic circumstances would be unchanged. The CNMI has many unemployed citizens and green card holders, and so does America.

If everyone had improved status and stayed here we would be inexactly the same situation. If some left for the mainland they may be in for quite a surprise as well. Those arriving in the mainland would know what many unhappy people there already know. Surviving in America can be a struggle. I have friends that have moved there and left due to the stress.

To live in America, you should be prepared for minimum wage jobs if you can't qualify for an H-1 visa. With an 8 dollar an hour job you can expect to pay federal income tax, state income tax, city tax where you work and live, figuring that populated industrial areas are also the high rent district, so be prepared to drive 50 miles a day, meaning you will need a solid car and insurance is required in every state, and don't forget social security and health care deductions from your check, everybody pays sales tax, and if you ever own property be prepared for county and city property taxes.